Religion throughout the course of humanity has been defined as an idyllic force, giving people comfort, purpose and a sense of self-worth. It achieves this through utilising defined and specific moral codes and ways of life, promising that people will possess great destinies if they abide by these terms. However, if we were to take a large step back, and look at all of the diverse forms of religion within our world from a broad perspective, we may be able to see a number of flaws arise. Now, let’s take the idea of a literary dystopia, a world where a society has been destroyed and then consequently controlled by an oppressive force. Worlds such as these include those of The Hunger Games, Divergent and The Host, all common forms of fiction, but all societies in which not many of us would actually like to live in (and that’s even after the movies wanted to make me have Gale’s children). If we look closely at each dystopian world, we see that each shares the commonality of a prevailing, corrupt and immoral ideology that acts as a higher and inferior power. It’s the idea of human sacrifice in The Hunger Games, the faction system in Divergent and that whole bizarre concept about ‘souls’ and occupying humans in The Host. Each ideology within each of these texts is one in which we as readers, strongly dislike. Aldous Huxley’s esteemed ‘Brave New World’, published in 1932, and Margaret Atwood’s critically acclaimed ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ of 1985 are both dystopian pieces of literature that possess a significant correlation to the concept of religion. Each novel, armed with satire and backed by context serves to demonstrate the damaging nature of a powerful ideology, making religion and its values resemble a dystopia.
Religion as a Comforter/Encourager vs Religion as a Tool of Oppression!
It is fascinating to note the effect that religion can have upon the mindset of the human race. Its set out rules and codes of living can serve as a force to comfort people, letting them know whether or not they are living life according to an acceptable standard. It lets people know of their fate after death, and in promising this sense of afterlife, encourages people to act and believe according to its religious ideology. By doing this, the system of values and beliefs can act as a means of social cohesion, uniting people under a common aim established by the religion itself. This idea of social unity resonates strongly from Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. In his critically acclaimed novel, an ideal society where “Everybody is happy” is portrayed. Work for the citizens of the world state doesn’t involve hard labour, and well, if it does, it wouldn’t seem tiring or restraining as the people taking part have been genetically conditioned to enjoy it. Within the world state, people are encouraged to strive for greatness (in their assigned positions and lifestyles, and absolutely no-where else for that matter) in order to benefit the state’s motto of “Community. Identity. Stability”. Huxley’s new world, governed by this repeating motto of unity seems to be particularly fantastic, or so the world controllers say. People are never lonely, they are united in a community and have great access to companions as “Everybody belongs to everyone else”. Every citizen knows their sense of purpose and identity; they’ve been assigned a name and strict occupation (which totally makes life so much easier). They’ve got food, health, shelter, sex and soma, securing their lives with stability and ease. In turn, a sense of happiness results from “making people like their inescapable destiny”, allowing society to run efficiently and effectively. All of this societal happiness is achieved through the power of technology and hypnopaedia, using “emotional engineering” and “propaganda technicians” who serve to condition the masses to think and act a certain way. Now, this ideology created by Huxley, through the repetition of the motto and theme of unity throughout the book, is essentially a religious governing force. Its aim is to comfort and encourage people to be happy, rewarding each person with happiness for their contribution to society. This form of religion seems harmless at a glance, it cares about the people and wants them to enjoy life. However, the fact that sacrifice lays within this type of world is often overlooked.
a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
Though religion has been demonstrated to act as a tool for comfort, its influence within society can also act as a form of oppression. This tendency for religion to control results from the idea that its laid out values and beliefs are to benefit the society as a whole. Margaret Atwood, in her esteemed novel ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ presents a seemingly different religion to that of the governance of Brave New World. Within the country of Gilead, the primary aim of society is to increase the levels of reproduction. This is achieved through the government installing a clear class system and violent tactics to assume complete control of women’s bodies. Due to the nuclear disaster that plagues the state of Gilead, many women lost their ability to reproduce from dangerous radiation. Coupled with the notion that many lives were lost during this time, Gilead faced an ultimate dilemma of a rapidly declining population. As a result, the religious leaders of the state rounded up all of the remaining fertile women, took them away from their families and stripped them of their individual identities, declaring them as Handmaids of the state. For each high ranking family who cannot successfully give birth to a child, a Handmaid is given to them. Each ‘Ceremony’, the Handmaid must let the Commander (whose wife cannot conceive) of the household have sexual intercourse with her, as she has been deemed by the state as fertile, a valuable asset. This sex however is not emotional nor for pleasure, Offred recites the experience only as an act of “fucking”, with “What he is fucking is the lower half of my body”. These women have accordingly had all of their rights oppressed and their freedoms taken away from them. The Handmaids are virtually used as sex slaves, being confined to their oppressive spheres of life and their fates being dictated according to whether they are able to conceive or not. This form of religious subjugation ensures that fertile females obey by their duty to reproduce. If they refuse to conform to these ways of life, violent consequences will take their toll. The religious leaders of the state have installed a number of terror tactics to encourage people to conform to their dictated roles within Gilead. They have established The Wall, where the people that are hanged there “look like dolls on which faces have not yet been painted”. This ghostly imagery emphasises the sense of death and lack of individuality that can resonate from the harsh ideals of religion. If any of the Handmaids are to reject the ideals and rules of the state, they face exile beyond Gilead where the “Unwomen” live. Additionally, there is The Salvaging, which serves to promote violence towards deserters of the state’s ideology and demonstrates “unity with the salvagers”. This ritual encourages the Handmaid’s to use violence against each other, further indoctrinating them with ideals that are in fact not acceptable. The only emotion the women are granted here is anger, which spreads quickly through “that tide of cloth and bodies”. Here, Atwood exaggerates through her diction that the women were only defined by their physical bodies and the clothes in which they wore. Consequently, the women themselves exert the same terror used by the state, a vicious cycle that keeps the women in line and controllable. This prevailing theme of fear and discipline amidst Atwood’s novel serves to emphasise the oppressive nature that many religious values have demonstrated throughout history.
The biggest lie in human history. It has been responsible for more deaths throughout human history than all other unnatural causes combined. For a thousand years the Church was a tyrannical dictatorship that used religion to control the uneducated masses. Free your minds and come into the 21st century.
“Religion is the child of Ignorance and Fear”
by ShadeeFan April 18, 2003
– Urban Dictionary
Both novels portray seemingly different types of religion, one acting as a comforter and one as an oppressor. However, despite these dissimilar natures, both possess the notion of sacrifice due to the overpowering religion of the state. Aldous Huxley in Brave New World demonstrates that although people may be happy under a certain religion, they may in fact be being deceived. Through the sacrifices citizens have to make, including their individuality and emotional freedom, Huxley emphasises that the actual purpose of the world controllers and the ideology they have established is to increase production and maintain control. The “loving cup of strawberry ice-cream soma” used as a biblical reference for the wine at the Last Supper, further alludes to the theme of individual sacrifice for the good of the “Greater Being”. Coinciding with this theme, The Handmaid’s Tale is riddled with aspects of forced sacrifice. The Handmaids are all dressed in red, “the colour of blood, which defines us”, and are named according to that of their Commander. They are praised for their fertility, but have also without choice been made to renounce their freedom. Both authors demonstrate that despite whether a religion tries to enforce either joy or fear, when a specific way of life is imposed upon people, the individual sacrifices that come with it are endless, and damaging.
Sexual Freedom vs Sexual Oppression!
Margaret Atwood constructed The Handmaid’s Tale in 1985, a period which saw a large growth of conservative revival in the West. Attempting to dominate this time were prominent members of the Church, many of whom criticised what they saw as the ‘excess’ of the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s. This religious outcry was targeted at the growth of sexual freedom within young women, the enhancement of the contraceptive pill and the wider acceptance of abortion. These basic female rights were condemned for being sinful, ludicrous and evil, serving to promote a negative image of young women throughout the world holding progressive values. At this time, Margaret Atwood was surrounded by increasing feminist concerns about the growth of religious influence. Many individuals were concerned that the successes achieved by the second wave of feminism would be reversed by religious objections. In facing this opposition to feminist success, Atwood, via The Handmaid’s Tale, takes the traditional religious desires that were voiced by the church and turns them into an extreme dystopia.
Within her novel, Atwood explores the consequences of an extreme reversal of women’s rights. She creates the society of Gilead to be governed by a group of conservative extremists. Plagued by a nuclear disaster and the spread of radiation, birth rates within Gilead have drastically declined. In response, the state structure has adopted religious values and a rigid political hierarchy, all in order for the state to assume complete control of reproduction. This is achieved through the religion of the state condoning the political subjugation of women’s bodies. Throughout the novel, women such as Offred are devalued and reduced to their fertility. Offred recalls her purpose as “We are containers, it’s only the insides of our bodies that are important”. This vivid image of a lack of emotion and sense of distance highlights the emptiness felt by the women under the religious regime of the state. They are treated as nothing more than their reproductive system, acting as a “national resource” and feeling the wrath of extreme emotional and sexual oppression. Additionally, the religious state uses its repressive ideology to condemn basic sexual instincts and features, making the women feel “shameful” and “immodest”. Offred’s own physical body, in which she should rightfully possess control of, makes her feel extremely uncomfortable. In orchestrating this ideological sense of absolute sexual oppression, Atwood exaggerates to her audiences the negative effects that sexual control can impose upon the mindsets of women. Consequently, through focusing on the plight of Offred and highlighting that her “nakedness is strange” even to herself, Atwood warns her readers against religious views. This condemnation of religious political goals resonates from the traumatic experience of Offred, accumulating in her sadness, lost sense of hope and paranoia.
The sexual atmosphere encompassing the years in which Aldous Huxley created Brave New World was not entirely different to that of Atwood. The 1920s and early 1930s for the Western world was a time that experienced the rise of the often promiscuous flapper and the spread of jazz music, along with its contemporary morals and ways of life. Women throughout these decades began to drink, smoke and drive motor cars at a much higher rate than previously seen before. They were learning to live a much more carefree way of life, dressing in shorter skirts and cutting their hair short in the name of liberation. However, just like the feminine successes of Atwood’s time, these women were also condemned by the religious sphere. Their newly gained freedoms were not celebrated as they should have been, but instead were targeted and accused of causing crime and corruption. Aldous Huxley was a member of a family of atheists, believing in scientific concepts as opposed to the notion that the world was created due to the power of a specific God. Responding to these unjust conservative criticisms, Huxley creates a world within his novel where absolute sexual freedom is condoned and encouraged by the dominant ideology. The World State in the novel has risen from the successes of science, babies being made from the technical advancement of mass production. People grow up with a knowledge that they can have sex with whomever they please, with children being taught “erotic play” from a young age. Casual sex is a normality and is used to only for pleasure, with traditional religious values of monogamy and celibacy being frowned upon. The recurring motif of unity and sexual equality throughout the book is demonstrated through hypnopaedic repetitions of “everybody belongs to everyone else”. Through continuously making use of this motif of sexual equality, Huxley makes a distinct contrast with the religious ideologies of his time. Alternatively, his use of humour in his diction “Orgy-porgy, Ford and fun” mocks the tradition of monogamous sex. By manipulating the common nursery rhyme with “Orgy-porgy gives release”, the author satirises religious sex values, insinuating they are a joke. He further proceeds throughout the text to promote sexual freedom, claiming that Lenina “ought to be a little more promiscuous”. By including these progressive values, Huxley defends the rise of the contemporary flapper, commending their prosperity and newly gained sense of freedom.
Brave New World and The Handmaid’s Tale alike were both created in a period of religious backlash to the newly gained freedoms of women. These progressive views on life and sexual activities resulted in severe objection from the church. Margaret Atwood, in response to these criticisms, created a dystopia where the rights of females have been reversed to the extreme. Consequently, her novel serves to warn readers of the negative effects of the sexual oppression that he church desired. The society orchestrated by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World exercises ideals of absolute sexual freedom. In doing so, he succeeds to mock the traditional religious views of the church. With the support of the changing values of the 1920s and 1930s, Huxley’s version of sexual choice may in fact have been more desirable to the youth of his time. Alternatively, the ideology of Brave New World may act to demonstrate how easily religious values can be manipulated, instead reversing what the Church originally wanted.
A Brief History of Birth Control in the U.S.
BY KIRSTEN M.J. THOMPSON | DECEMBER 14, 2013
1965 The Supreme Court (in Griswold v. Connecticut) gave married couples the right to use birth control, ruling that it was protected in the Constitution as a right to privacy. However, millions of unmarried women in 26 states were still denied birth control.
1968 FDA approved intrauterine devices (IUDs), bringing early versions like the Lippes Loop and Copper 7 to market.
1970 Feminists challenged the safety of oral contraceptives (the Pill) at well-publicized Congressional hearings. As a result, the formulation of the Pill was changed, and the package insert for prescription drugs came into being.
1972 The Supreme Court (in Baird v. Eisenstadt) legalized birth control for all citizens of this country, irrespective of marital status.
1974 The FDA suspended sale of the Dalkon Shield IUD due to infections and seven documented deaths among users. Although other IUD designs were not implicated, most IUDs were slowly taken off the US market due to the escalating costs of lawsuits in subsequent years.
1980s Pills with low doses of hormones were introduced, along with a new copper IUD, ParaGard (1998). (CuT380a). Growing awareness of the Yuzpe regimen for emergency contraception.
Religion & Cultural Confusion
The traditional concept of the ‘Hollywood Ending’ exists throughout literature, this form of structure and plot proving particularly popular over generations of readers. It promises audiences the end to the story they all want to hear, setting them up with dreams and ambitions of such success they want to encounter within their lives. Religion can subsequently act to serve this same purpose, promising a wonderful afterlife for all who abide by its conditions. Though religious values promote this sense of happy ending, whether it be automatic entry to the Pearly Gates or your 72 virgins in heaven, all of these differing beliefs and religious values have one predominant effect; to cause cultural confusion.
It is a common characteristic of dystopian novels that the protagonist either fails to make a significant change to his/her society, or more drastically, dies at the end of the text. This traditional dystopian concept, utilised by both Atwood and Huxley, acts to satirise the stories conjured up by religion. This generic aspect of this type of fiction emphasises that succeeding to enforce change within the world is extremely rare, as the rules and morals of society are often too controlling or repressive. Additionally, it is exaggerated that life after death is unknown, what actually occurs has never been proven, but is simply just a hope created in order to comfort people. Both protagonists within The Handmaid’s Tale and Brave New World either directly enter or are forced into an unknown and unclear ending.
The protagonist of Brave New World is John, a young man born in the savage reservation and accustomed to the ways of life most relatable to those of readers. He appreciates knowledge as a “beautiful magic”; a concept forbidden by the state’s religion. He values monogamy, and understands the “extraordinary pleasure” resulting from the ability “to fashion, to give form” through creation. His ideals coincide with those of Huxley’s audiences to a much greater extent than those of the world state. With this in mind, when John is placed into the society of the new world, his existence serves to drastically juxtapose the two ideologies. The religion of the world state seems ridiculous and oppressive, restricting freedom of choice and individuality. As a result of this juxtaposition, Huxley insinuates that John becomes culturally confused. He is conflicted between his knowledge of two opposing systems of beliefs, that of the Lord God, and that of Ford. With both religions pushing their own interpretations of morals and ethics upon him, John exiles himself away from civilisation in an attempt to clear his moral conscience. What results is a battle in his mind about what is the true perception of right and wrong. John claims “I want God… I want sin” and “I want real danger, I want freedom”, each binary opposite employed by Huxley hinting at his desire for emotional freedom and ability to decide his own fate. However, the what ultimately results from this confusion cause by the two worlds is John’s death. As his feet hang “like two unhurried compass needles”, Huxley’s figurative language portrays John’s lost sense of hope and direction. Burdened by the opposing beliefs he has experienced, his ability to cope as diminished, resulting in his act of taking his life and entering the unknown.
The plight of Offred throughout The Handmaid’s Tale evokes a strong sense of empathy within the readers. Therefore, when her ending is presented ambiguously by Atwood, we as readers hope for the best version of her destiny. The protagonist does not detail where her story goes, but only states “And so I step up, into the darkness within; or else the light”, demonstrating two possible endings to her journey. Predominantly, readers will hope that she has been taken away from the dominant ideology by “Mayday”, as the harsh and unjust terms of Gilead’s religion are undesired by readers. Accordingly, this sense of unknown ending supports the theme of cultural confusion, as the destiny claimed to be had by the religion of the state does not occur. Whatever does happen is up to the reader themselves.
The Handmaid’s Tale and Brave New World both demonstrate significant responses to the religious backlashes of their time. Each, in the form of a dystopia, relishes in the mockery of religion and its often corrupt and unjust values. Many of the ideologies within our world today still possess oppressive and controlling rules for living that only serves to sacrifice individuality, repress sexual freedom and cause cultural confusion. Each issue within The Handmaid’s Tale and Brave New World is universal across our own world, with each religion, in my own beliefs, being classed as only one system; Ridiculousianity!